(Editor's Note - I will be featuring these Fan Posts by Chris Hafner over the next couple of weeks. This is an exceptional example of what Fan Posts can be. So if you have hopes of hitting our front page someday, get to writing. You create good content, and I'll feature it! -- Big Chris)
Steve Stearns’ recent series counting down the 10 Greatest Sonics of All Time was a welcome reminder of the great Sonics players and teams of the past and a respite from the slow-motion insanity of the proposed Sacramento Kings purchase and relocation. Almost more importantly, it offered a chance to forget about environmental reviews and NBA bylaws for a moment, and get back to being normal basketball fans, reminiscing and arguing about the respective merits of our favorite players.
In one of those comment threads, Chris Meirose offered to give a little space to anybody prepared to put together their own Greatest Sonics list. I've decided to take him up on that, not because I don't like Steve's list, but because this presents the opportunity to combine some of my greatest loves--Sonics history, player rankings, and overcomplicated spreadsheet geekery. The upshot? I've put together my own personal list of the 30 Greatest Sonics of All Time ranked by my own system, which I'll call "HafPoints" to help make absolutely clear that nobody should take it seriously.
The HafPoints system, such as it is, makes heavy use of Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Win Shares as they are published at Basketball-Reference.com. To really understand these metrics, follow the hyperlinks to an in-depth description, but here's a quick, oversimplified synopsis of each:
PER generates a single, all-in-one-number rating of a player’s season, using a weighting of each player’s statistics, both good and bad, with a focus on efficiency. That efficiency focus means that ballhogs who inflate their scoring by shooting a low percentage and who hurt their teams by turning the ball over won’t rank well. PER is also scaled to capture a team’s pace and league pace--that way players on running teams that have lots of possessions don’t unfairly benefit from the extra opportunities to score points, pull in rebounds, or dish out assists.
PER does not account for team success, but it is helpful for comparing players' single-season performance across players, positions, teams, and even seasons.
Win Shares breaks up a team’s wins for a season and assigns them to the players on the team based on their offensive and defensive contributions. Win shares do reflect player skill and contribution to their team's success, but because they are scaled to a team’s wins, a player on a 60-win team will rack up many more win shares than the same player on a 30-win team. This means that both skill and team success are crucial to amassing as many win shares as possible.
The HafPoints scale runs from 0 to 1,000, with higher scores indicating greater and more significant players. HafPoints are calculated based on four inputs, each of which addresses a different facet of what we value as greatness and significance from our players.
Input: Peak Value
Description: Just how good was this player at the peak of his Sonics career?
Weighting: 40% of final score (i.e. 400 of the possible 1,000 points)
Explanation: This seems to be at the heart of most "all-time great" questions--just how good were these guys when they were at their best? Was Lenny Wilkens better than Dennis Johnson? Was Jack Sikma better than Spencer Haywood? Was Xavier McDaniel better than Rashard Lewis? Generally what's being discussed is skill level and caliber of contribution the player put up at his peak, and the Peak Value rating attempts to answer this question.
Methodology: For every season a player spent in in Seattle, I calculated a simple value metric weighted towards PER but also incorporating Win Shares. I then took the player's two best seasons as a Sonic (as judged by this metric) and then scaled that combined score from 100 (highest peak value) to 0 (Jim McIlvaine, of course). Since PER can fluctuate wildly in limited minutes, only seasons with greater than 1,000 minutes played qualify. Only the regular season is considered in this metric, not the playoffs.
It’s worth reiterating that the metric depends on the player having at least two seasons with more than 1,000 minutes played in each. I think that's fair; taking only one season favors one-hit wonders over a truly significant peak. Plus, if a player doesn't have at least two seasons and 2,000 minutes played as a Sonic, I think it's appropriate that player have a significant headwind against being considered a Greatest Sonic of all time?
Input: Aggregate Value
Description: How much total value did the player generate over the course of their Sonics career?
Weighting: 30% of final score
Explanation: While Peak Value rewards absolute excellence, aggregate value measures total value, rewarding performance accumulated over time. A player with only two stellar seasons as a Sonic will not likely put up as much aggregate value as a player who turns in a decade of solid seasons. However, the ideal case for this metric is a great player who performs at a high level for a long time.
Methodology: My metric is based primarily off the accumulation of Win Shares during a player's career, which captures player contribution to the team's victories. Since that has the potential to undervalue great players on poor teams, I added a small component of aggregate PER per player, to capture their ongoing greatness independent of wins. I then scaled the top player to 100 points. As with Peak Value, a player's PER only counts if they played more than 1,000 minutes in that season.
Input: Playoff Value
Description: How much value did the player add in the playoffs?
Weighting: 20% of final score
Explanation: The playoffs are harder to measure than the regular season, but performance during the playoffs is obviously a huge factor in the way we think about a player's time as a Sonic. Players who perform well in significant minutes on teams that win in the bright lights of the playoffs tend to be fondly remembered and highly significant to the franchise. Players without wins or minutes in the playoffs, or who play on non-playoff teams, not so much.
Methodology: The playoffs represent a very limited set of games, and trying to extract meaningful player statistics from such a small set of games is an exercise in small-sample-size madness. Ultimately, I chose to avoid the problem of measuring playoff performance through a metric like PER and chose instead a simpler answer that I hope still indicates general playoff value. I created a metric that primarily focuses on playoff minutes played and playoff games won. This rewards players who played significant playoff minutes, and who were parts of teams that made long playoff runs. As with the other top inputs, I scaled the top player to 100 points.
What this measure does not do is identify players who performed very well despite relatively few playoff minutes and games won (Ray Allen is an example here), or players who played poorly, but put up significant playoff minutes on successful teams (perhaps Ervin Johnson?). Despite this, and the fact that this measure doesn't really qualify as statistically rigorous, I think it still works for these reasons:
- For players like Ray Allen, who was great in limited playoff minutes, we've already captured his greatness during the regular season with Peak Value.
- Minutes and team wins are important. To go back to Allen, while his 2005 playoff run was memorable, he probably doesn't have as much total playoff significance in our minds as a player like Detlef Schrempf, who was not as spectacular but played a vital role on some important Sonics playoff teams and in some vital moments.
- While this metric doesn't directly measure player performance, minutes played is a more reliable proxy for perceived value provided than it is in the regular season. Every minute in the playoffs takes on added importance. If a player was ineffective on the floor in the playoffs, he likely wouldn't get as many minutes.
Input: Sonics Significance
Description: Beyond the raw statistics, how important is this player to Seattle, and to what degree did this player represent the Sonics to the rest of the league?
Weighting: 10% of final score
Explanation: This is a tough one to quantify, but there are a variety of measurable factors that can make a player beloved to Seattle and prominent to the rest of the league. Examples include being a Sonics draftee, going on to coach the Sonics, or earning national attention in a variety of ways--being part of a Finals or championship team, being named an all-star, winning NBA awards, or being named to All-NBA and/or All-Defense teams.
Methodology: I assigned point values to each of the factors called out above and added them up for each player, then scaled the top player to 100 points.
Anyway, enough of the dry stuff. The upshot is that I’ve used the available data to rank players in ways that make sense to me, but that might not satisfy an advanced statistician. There has been no regression analysis here, or a lot of work to identify the right coefficients. Instead, I worked to parse the data in ways that are relatively easy to perform, that sound right to me, and that creates results that make sense. I'm looking forward to getting on with the fun player stuff and having nobody read or comment on it because it doesn't relate to the Kings situation.
Next: Greatest Sonics of All Time, Nos. 21-30